1. It was just last Thursday that the Miami Heat claimed the 2012 NBA championship with a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, yet it feels like it could have been six months ago. Maybe that’s because I don’t follow the NBA that carefully, but I get this feeling with nearly every passing major sports championship, and I remember it even as a kid, so it isn’t a feature of a developing perspective on time with age. It could be that the media mediates our experience of sports more than we realize. Hyperanalysis of championship games and series builds so much anticipation and tension. By the morning after the clinching game, though, the championship really does feel like yesterday’s news. Absent a controversial happening during the game, the media typically offers little beyond a standard game breakdown and an interview with a player or coach before jumping right into previewing the next season.
2. The morning-after conversation after this championship was all about LeBron James. The media’s beat on James had already begun to shift once the Heat made it to the finals, and by the time Miami clinched, they had made a complete 180 on LeBron. Had LeBron really changed, though? In some ways, probably. We’re told he developed his post game this year. That’s definitely something material. But if material, identifiable, quantifiable basketball things were the focus, his winning a championship wasn’t the point of change. He wasn’t heralded as the greatest when he was having, by the numbers, the best season in basketball history earlier this year, or when he won his third regular season MVP award, only questioned more. The nexus of the widespread criticism seemed to be personal and stem from things like the artistic merit of The Decision and The Introduction, his prediction that he’ll win eight championships, his apparent laissez-faire attitude with respect to competitiveness and the fourth quarter, his receding hairline and associated coping method, his unwillingness to shake hands when he loses, his calling the mother of his children his sidekick, etc. etc. If some or all of these are the bases for your beefs with James, though, the new ring on his finger changes nothing. Drew Magary, as usual, cuts to the chase:
There’s never been any question that LeBron James is a great basketball player. And even when he was coming up short in the playoffs, haters like myself just used those failures as an easy excuse to pile on him further, because he’s a dipsh[–] and he deserved it. The fact that he’s won a championship doesn’t fundamentally alter his character in any way. That’s the great con of sports: the idea that winners win because they have character and losers lose because they don’t. If you think LeBron is a good guy now because he won a title, then you probably had no business thinking he was a bad guy to begin with, because the outcome of a sporting event says nothing about the person within.
I never decided if I am a “LeBron hater,” which probably means I’m not. The only thing that really bugged me was his unwillingness to shake hands after he lost that championship with Cleveland. I guess I’m more agnostic about him, and I don’t think he’s more likely to win eight championships now than he was a week ago or a year ago save for the mathematical fact that he now has one of those eight.
3. One area where my thinking has developed a bit is with regard to the manner in which this Heat team came together. Something certainly felt weird about the way James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, and it was probably this weirdness or different-ness that made me not like them, made me think of them like the NBA-Yankees. They aren’t the Yankees at all, though, and I think we probably should celebrate their orchestration, not let it be grounds for our ire. Pat Riley or whoever didn’t buy all these players. They figured it out themselves. The egomaniacal LeBron took a pay cut to compete for a championship. Nobody framed it that way, though, or at least not until everybody suddenly rolled over and proclaimed a deep love for him sometime last week. Compare him to Carmelo Anthony, for example, leaving the Nuggets for the Knicks. Which is the “better” story? It’s James’, absolutely. That’s what we say we want. This also is a tally for labor mobility, something that’s nearly nonexistent in professional sports. Yes they’re playing a game. Yes they’re making many millions of dollars. But it also is their life, their actual life, and their actual job. You have your job, and they have theirs, and if (or when, as the case increasingly may be) you never got to decide where (i.e., in what city and state) you worked, how long you got to stay there, or when and under what conditions you had to move, you likely would reject that arrangement out of hand, or at least think it was a pretty raw deal. That’s what pro athletes have. They shouldn’t whine, because whining is unbecoming, but we ought to recognize their gripe, and we should acknowledge that infusing some labor mobility into pro sports is an okay thing.
4. These shirts: